I can remember as a single woman feeling sad every Valentine’s Day that I didn’t have a man in my life with whom to celebrate the day of love. Sometimes, in college, I would go out with all my single friends and we would all bemoan our singleness together (or else take up an I-don’t-need-a-man mantra while inwardly bemoaning our singleness). I can remember other years sitting at home alone writing a love letter of longing to my future husband.
Now, of course I’m not going to say that romantic love and marriage shouldn’t be celebrated on Valentine’s Day or that feelings of longing for romantic love are invalid. But I do wish I could take my younger self by the shoulders and tell myself to stop thinking about my longing to be loved and instead start focusing on how I am loved-deeply, beyond my comprehension-by my heavenly Father. And how I can love others. Then, instead of my inward focus which only left me feeling empty, I could have had an outward focus resulting in joy. You see, when we meditate on God’s love for us, our response is worship. And love. Love for God and love for others. And an outward focus is always more fulfilling than an inward focus.
Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity to celebrate love in many forms. But to truly celebrate love we need to understand it. In order to truly understand love we need to know the God who IS love and created us with the capacity TO love. The book of First John is packed with truth about love so this will be our primary text as we explore what the Bible teaches about love.
We Love Because He First Loved Us
“God is love” (1 John 4:8).
We Were Designed to Love
We can see that love is at the very heart of who God is by looking at the trinity–three distinct persons in loving relationship, yet mysteriously one. That all three persons were active in the creation of man (Gen. 1:26) after God’s own image emphasizes that man was created to be a special object of God’s love and to imitate His love in relationship with others. He allowed Adam to recognize his need for another human to love and then gave him Eve and set the pattern for marriage (Gen. 2:20-25).
Marriage, then, from creation was meant to mirror God’s love. We also see the importance of the parent/child relationship in the command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). We even see friendship as God walks with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day. So, the three most important human relationships: marriage, family and friendship, were designed to reflect God’s love.
Our Ability to Love Has Been Broken
When Adam and Eve sinned against God, it broke their perfect relationship with Him, causing them to hide from Him. But it also broke their perfect relationship with each other. We see them making clothing to cover their nakedness and blame-shifting when questioned by God. Sin has turned our focus inward.
God Shows Us What Love Is
But God is love. His plan from before time began was to redeem mankind back (1 Pet. 1:19-20). First John 4:9-10 says,
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
In other words, THE way we can know God’s love is through the sacrifice of His Son. This is the single greatest expression of love imaginable (John 15:13). That God, the one sinned against, would Himself pay the price for these sins in order to restore our relationship with Him. Romans 5:8 says, ”but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He did this not because we deserved it. He loves us not because we are lovable. Ephesians 2:4-5 says, ”But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…” He sent His son to die for us because He is “rich in mercy.” He loved us even though we don’t deserve His love. This is indeed a “great love!”
We can only truly understand what love is because God has shown us love beyond imagination. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). And we can only truly love God and others because God loved us first. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
We Believe and Become God’s Children
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1).
What We Gain
God’s love brings us into His family, restoring the relationship with Him that was broken because of our sin. When a person turns from his sin in faith, trusting in Christ’s sacrifice on his behalf, he becomes adopted into God’s family (Rom. 8:16-17). He is justified before God, seen as righteous because Christ’s righteousness is given to him (2 Cor. 5:21).
First John 4:16 says of Christ’s followers that “ we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.” God loves the whole world (John 3:16, 1 John 2:2) but the one who believes this great love knows God and receives the benefits of His love. We can call Him Father for we are His children, brought back into right relationship with Him through His redeeming love.
What was lost in the garden of Eden, namely relationship with God and, in turn, right relationship with others, is restored in Christ. Because of God’s sacrificial love for us, we are now able to respond in love back to Him and we become a family with all others who believe.